WILLIAM ARNOT And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed. " — Genesis hi. 15.

THE feeble beginning of a great thing inspires you with reverence, if you know as you look upon it the greatness of its issue. When a traveller has at length reached the source of the Nile, and gazes upon the well's eye among the central mountains of Africa where the mighty river has its birth, he is filled with wonder and awe. His emotion, however, is not due to the sight which then and there he looks upon : it is the greatness of the full-grown river that imparts so much interest to the infant spring. A native who sees that spring every day, looks upon it lightly, because he has never seen the infant in its manhood — knows not that the infant has a mighty manhood far away. Here, in this verse, first springs a river which flows right through the broad wilderness of Time, refreshing every generation as they pass ; and will yet, beyond the boundary, make glad for ever the city of our God. In

THE FIRST PROMISE. 69 this verse the gospel of grace takes its rise. If we saw only the tiny spring, we should not be able fully to estimate its importance. It is our knowledge of the kingdom in its present dimensions and its future prospects that invests with so much grandeur this first, short message, of mercy from God to man. We know the import

of that message better than they who heard it first. And yet, as the negro native on the mountains near the sources of the Nile can drink and satisfy his thirst from the tiny rill that constitutes the embryo river, while he who sails on its broad bosom near the sea can do no more ; so those who lived in the earliest days of grace might satisfy their souls at the narrow stream then flowing, as well as those who shall be found dwelling on the earth at the dawn of the millennial day. From the feeble stream that burst through the stony ground near the closed gate of Paradise righteous Abel freely drank the water of life : the same, and no more, shall they do who shall see the knowledge of the Lord covering the earth in the latter day. God opened a spring in the desert as soon as there were thirsty souls sojourning there. Here, as we have said, the Gospel springs. But this is not the beginning of mercy. Its date is more ancient ; its fountain-head is higher. " God is love : " there, if you will trace mercy to its ultimate source — there Redemption springs, thence Redemption flows. From that upper spring it came ; and having found its way through secret channels, it burst forth here, in the form of the primeval promise, at the feet of the fallen race. " From the Father

70 THE FIRST PROMISE. of lights Cometh down every good and perfect gift." From him, first and last, the gift unspeakable has come. Thus sprang that common water in Jacob's well, of which although the thirsty drink, he shall thirst again. If it had not fallen first from heaven, it would not have boiled up through rifts in the rock. Such also is the law which the living water obeys. It springs in the wilderness, and follows the pilgrim's path, because it has first dropped in showers from heaven. Love to the lost springs in the first page of the Bible, at the beginning of

time, because it dwelt in God without limit from eternity. At present I propose to deal only with the first clause of the verse — the promise that enmity shall be generated between the serpent and the woman — between his seed and hers. But even on this limited field I must make a selection. Many things must be assumed ; for to pause and expound each preliminary idea would detain us all our allotted time in the vestibule ; so that we could not, on this occasion at least, penetrate into the temple where the mercy-seat is shining, illumined by its own light. One or two things of an introductory character must be at least stated, inasmuch as they are essential to the comprehension of the main lesson. And the first of these is the existence and agency of an evil spirit, the enemy of man. On this subject it is easy to raise formidable difficulties. If we should launch into speculation regarding what is possible in this sphere, or what is consistent with the power and the goodness of God, we

THE FIRST PROMISE. 71, should very soon lose our way. I confine myself to the region of facts. Moral evil exists, and spreads like a flood over the world. This no sober man can deny, or, without Scripture, explain. The Bible, with wonderful explicitness, and with as wonderful reserve, proclaims and denounces the author and introducer of sin. " Didst thou not sow good seed in thy ground ?" said the surprised and grieved servants to their Master ; " whence, then, hath it tares .'^" "An enemy hath done this," said the Lord. To make sure that no reader should fail to lay open the folds of the figure, and gather the kernel of revealed truth which lay beneath them, he afterwards explained without a parable : " The enemy that sowed them is the Devil." Here let the speculations of Chris-

tians cease. I rest in this : I thank my Lord for this word. It tells two cheering truths : first, that the enemy is not God ; and, second, that though sin has now deeply tinged our nature, our nature is not in its essence and always sinful. Man has been damaged by the impact of evil after he came from his Maker's hands ; and the damage, now that help has been laid on the Mighty, may be removed. There is a healing for the deadly wound. - The enemy, in this text and in other instances all through the Scripture, is impersonated as the serpent. Now a series of lessons directly practical : — . I. There is a kind of friendship or alliance between the destroyer and his dupe. The root of the ailment lies here. It was by an alliance with the serpent that

72 THE FIRST PROMISE. sin was introduced : it is the continuance of that alliance that gives sin its power in the world still. If the first pair had not entered into a covenant with the Wicked One, there would not have been a fall. Neither at the first nor at any subsequent period has the enemy come forward as an enemy, declaring war, and depending on the use of force. Not the power, but the wiles of the Devil have we cause to dread. If either he or we should assume the attitude of adversary, our cause were won. Knowing that he lacks power to destroy God's creatures, he simulates friendship, and persuades them to destroy themselves. On the other hand, if we count and treat the Devil as an enemy, \ve shall overcome him. The principle is expressed in the psalm — "When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back. This I know, for God is for me" (Ps. Ivi. 9). The turning point is, " When I cry." It means, when I am no longer in with my destroyer, I have the Omnipotent on my

side. It is when we are traitors to ourselves that the adversary gains the advantage. When evil spirits dwelt and ruled in living men during the period of the Lord's personal ministry, there seems to have been a fast bond of friendship between the Tempter and the tempted. The captive was a willing captive : if he had not been willing, he would not have been a captive. The man was on the side of the evil spirit that possessed him. His lips obeyed the vile inspiration, and replied to Jesus, " What have we to do with thee.?"

THE FIRST PROMISE. 73 It is here that the Tempter's power lies to-day. If we were not on his side, he could do us no harm. The City of Mansoul has walls and bulwarks impregnable by all the power of the Wicked One. The adversary could neither force the gates nor undermine the ramparts. It is only when the inhabitant Soul within, turning traitor to itself and its rightful King, admits the enemy by a postern, that the defences can be won. A soul in love with the lust that defiles it, is led captive by that lust. The difficulty lies here. There is help at hand ; but the sinner, in love with his sin, does not want a helper. A soul's love of sin is the hinge on which the loss of a soul turns. It is not Avise, in the treatment either of ourselves or of others, to despise the pleasures of sin. It is quite true that they are poisonous, and will ultimately destroy ; but it is also true that they are sweet, and have power to entice. 2. Enmity must be engendered between these twofriends. The first and fundamental necessity of the case is that the friendship should be dissolved. As long as the adversary by his wiles succeeds in making it sweet,

and as long as the dupe loves it, so long is the captive held. Nothing in heaven or earth can do a sinner any good until he has fallen out with his own sin I A well-beloved son of an honoured house has taken up with an unprincipled companion. The favourite has obtained, and maintains the mastery over the youth. Coaxing and threatening are alike unavailing. The dupe loves . his destroyer — and loves more fondly the

74 THE FIRST PROMISE, more he is reproved for his mad devotion. The patient will not begin to amend until that love be converted into loathing; You cannot by any appliance do him any good as long as he dotes upon a lewd companion. When that friendship is dissolved you may lead the prodigal home, but not till then. The case of a human spirit and its own destroyer is more difficult in this respect, that you cannot separate the lovers as long as they are lovers. Although it is defective as being outward and mechanical, still a physical separation effected by a parent's authority between his bewitched child and his child's bewitcher may produce a diversion in favour of the right. Although the cure is not complete until the heart repudiates its corrupt affection, the evil results may be in some measure diminished by an enforced separation. The offended but loving father has still the resource left, of forbidding the ensnarer his house, — a resource which, although defective at best as a cure, is by no means despicable as an alleviation. But in the case of a fast friendship between a human spirit and its own tempter, no such resource is open. The enchanter comes and goes unseen. The enchanted opens the door to admit his destroyer, and none can observe the fact Hearts open their gates in secret for secret intercourse with thoughts. Seven devils may possess a man while he bows his head like a bulrush in the house of God.

Spirits come and go, like bees to and from their hive, with this difference, that they are not seen at all. No watch that another may set can scare away these mid-

THE FIRST PROMISE. ^5 night visitors, or put to shame their entertainers. Not a beginning of good to the soul can be made, until enmitybegin between the soul and its sin. Nor will a simulated enmity be of any avail. The alliance has been real for the soul's undoing : the rupture must be real ere the soul can be saved. A man may repeat many unexceptionable prayers for the pardon of his sin, and deliverance from its power, and yet all the while be as much in love with it as ever, hugging it in his bosom, and determined not to let it go. " The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." To keep up appearances, it will hypocritically call on God to take sin away, while it is determined to hold it fast. The man cries out in presence of his neighbours, — " Cut off this right hand; pluck out this right eye;" while he holds to these members as to life, and will not let them go. 3. God will put enmity between a man and the enemy who has enticed, and so overcome him. When created beings are involved in sin, as a law of their being they cannot break off by an effort or wish of their own. The spirit that launches once into rebellion against God, goes on helplessly in rebellion for ever, unless an almighty arm, guided by infinite love, be stretched out to arrest the fallen, — the falling star. Matter is passive : when it is placed at rest, it remains at rest ; when it is set in motion, it continues in motion for ever, unless something external to itself stop its progress. A world set in motion through space can no more stop its motion than it could begin it.

76 THE FIRST PROMISE. The law that rules spirits seems to be similar. When the holy in heaven have been thrown forth into a career of holy obedience, as the planets were launched in their courses, they will run in that race for ever. Like the sun in his course shall the righteous be, running their ' race rejoicing — with this difference, that they shall never grow dim with age, and never stand still. On the other hand, when the apostate are given over, — cast out of God's hand, — they go on in that course without turning. Their progress is towards the blackness of darkness for ever. Like the outcast are the sinful now. In all but one thing, — their day of mercy has not run out. God has not given them over. This makes the difference. From edge to edge of time his hand is felt interfering. He never ceases to strive with man, until he has passed the border of the allotted day, and entered into night. When the Lord Jesus looked down on the inhabitants of Jerusalem with their day of grace done, he wept over them. It is profitable to remember that we are helpless. It is only a cry out of the depths that will reach heaven, and bring help from One that is mighty. " Lord, save me, I perish," is a prayer that reaches the Redeemer's ear : it melts his heart, and moves his hand. The special step, or turning-point, which lies beyond the power of man, and is competent only to God, is to put enmity between the serpent and the woman — between her seed and his. To dissolve the friendship


between a soul and its sin belongs to the hand of God in the covenant of grace. To put enmity between a man and the devil who inhabits his heart — to change his affections, so that he shall henceforth loathe what he formerly loved, and love what he formerly loathed, — this is God's prerogative. " Create in me a clean heart, O God ; and renew a right spirit within me." He is offering to do it : he is doing it now. He is pressing on our spirits as the atmosphere leans upon the earth, — pressing to sever the bond by which the Tempter holds the will a captive. This is proved by the evangelical precept, " Quench not the Spirit." It is proved by the threatening, " My Spirit shall not always strive with man." '' Not always strive : " that warning intimates that he strives long — is striving now. Yield yourselves unto God : he is striving, he is pressing now. 4. Notice now the relation which Christ our Redeemer bears to the breach of peace between a man and his Tempter. Over and above the promise that enmity will be put between the serpent and the woman, it is said in the text that enmity will be put between his seed and hers. We are guided by the Spirit of inspiration in the interpretation of this clause. We know certainly from Scripture, "her seed" means first and chiefly the second Adam, the Lord from heaven. As enmity between the two friends must be generated, and as only God can efficiently kindle that enmity, so it is only through Christ the Mediator that such a breach could be made. Enmity between the parties could not spontaneously

78 THE FIRST PROMISE. arise. One of the two, the Tempter, would riot ; the other, the tempted, could not. Left to ourselves, it would have been, once in, always in. A fast friendship

with our destroyer would have been the history of the human race. The serpent holds the bird charmed, and so devours it. The drugged spirit, steeped in the indulgence of the sin it loved, would never have awakened out of sleep, and never broken the spell. But the Mediator accomplished the work. He undertakes a work of separation, as well as a work of union. He breaks before he binds : he breaks in order that he may bind. He has undertaken first to convert an old love into a new enmity ; and next to convert an old enmity into a new love. The branch is cut out of the old root, and then graflfed into the good Vine. The task of alienating friends is one part of Christ's mission, and the work of reconciling enemies is another. He does both. The one cannot be done without the other. As there is no way of introducing day without dispelling the night, so there is no way of reconciling us to God without also producing an enmity where a friendship had existed, between our souls and their sin. He made an end of sin, by making an end of the peace between man possessed and the evil spirit possessing. As our representative he met the Tempter, and for us began the quarrel. He hated evil perfectly, eternally, unchangeably. The evil spirits, whenever he approached, felt the breath of his holiness like a consuming fire. "Who art thou, Jesus } Art thou come to torment us } "

THE FIRST PROMISE. 79 We need and get Christ as Mediator on either side. He is Mediator between God and man, for reconcihng the alienated ; he is Mediator between man and Satan, for alienating the united. As his acceptance with the Father is our acceptance with the Father, when we are found in him ; so his breach with the adversary is our breach, when we are found in him. His twofold mission is, to break up one friendship, and begin another. Upward and heavenward, Christ's work for us is to reconcile those

who were at enmity : downward and sinward, his work for us is to produce enmity between those who were friends. He came not to send peace on earth. He came to kindle a fire — a fire of irreconcilable hatred, where peace had reigned before, between each repenting sinner and his own besetting sin. And, oh! how ardently he wills — wishes, that the fire should be kindled immediately. As is the Head, so are the members. He is at enmity with the Wicked One. When we are in him, we are heirs to his wars on the one side as well as to his friendships on the other. We partake of his hates as well as of his loves. These two, indeed, are one. To be at enmity with our own sin is the under side of being reconciled to God by the death of his Son ; and to be reconciled to God by the death of his Son is the upper side of hatred to all unholiness. Christ's members, in virtue of their union to him, hate what he hates, and love what he loves ; and these two are one. 5. The part which Christians act in the quarrel. Christ

So THE FIRST PROMISE. was the first-fruits in this enmity ; but afterwards, they that are Christ's. In him the strife began ; and it is continued in his members after the Head is exalted. The feud is hereditary, inextinguishable, eternal. The Church on earth is the Church militant ; that is, the Church soldiering. There is another wing of the grand army, called the Church triumphant. Those who remain in the body wield the sword : those who have been admitted into heaven wave the palm and v/ear the crown. The real business in hand for Christians is not heaven, but holiness. The issue may be left in the Leader's hands : the duty of the soldiers is to stand where they

are placed, and strike as long as they see a foe. Until the trumpet shall sound, calling the weary to rest, our part is to fight. Woe to the deceiver who fraternizes with the enemy, or strikes with half his force a feeble blow ! The kingdom of heaven is within you ; within you, therefore, its battles must be fought and its victories won. Strike, and spare not for their crying. It is not a languid expectation of an easy heaven ; it is a battle that is before us to-day. He is the best soldier in the warfare who hates most his Sovereign's enemy and his own. Polluting lust is the spark that kindles hell : there is no other way of being saved from that burning than by stamping out the embers of sin that lie hidden in the ashes of your own heart. "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." Sweet promise ! yea, sweet promise and stern command, united together as firmly as the warp and the woof of

THE FIRST PROMISE. 8i the garment that you wear. Take it whole, and it will cover you ; but take one half, and the other will fall asunder, like loose threads, and leave the wearer naked. God will subdue the adversary ; but he will subdue him under your feet. You must yield yourselves as his instruments to crush with your own will all the old serpent's folds. A winged creature, a timid, feeble dove, is held captive in a tiger's claws. The tyrant, sure of his morsel, does not instantly devour it. It is his instinct to play with it a while, as if to whet his appetite. He lets it go, and seizes it again. This he does, once, twice, often. In a moment, in the pauses of the cruel sport, the feeble bird gets wing, and flies. Up, up it soars ; away and away into the blue, while the greedy, cruel monster, gnashes his hungry teeth, and looks after it in impotent rage.

So a bird escapes from the destroyer's gin ; so a soul escapes from the enemy of the soul.


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful